Today I will be giving my opinion on how I think RPG’s should be developed.
Last week I blogged about the differences between Japanese and Western culture and how that reflects in the games we create. I said that Japanese developers are more focused on creating a story for the user to play and experience. For example, playing as Tidus in Final Fantasy X, becoming the master of the Keyblade as Sora in Kingdom Hearts or playing as Yuri Lowell in Tales of Vesperia. Japanese games normally have wide and expansive story lines and well built characters. The gameplay (in my opinion) comes secondary to the world. When I play a JRPG I feel like the gameplay is simply the glue in between each story point. Cheap glue.
Western RPG’s on the other hand give the player more control over everything. Instead of building a world for you, they build a world around you. In Skyrim you are the Dragonborn, a beacon of hope and power destined to save their land. In Mass Effect you play as Commander Shepard an alliance Spectre and the slayer of the Reapers. Western games give very little back story to the player character to allow the players to be whoever they want. They drop the player into a very large world and give them hints about what they should be doing and an end goal. How the player reaches that end goal is different for every user.
What is a more rewarding user experience? Being given the freedom and unlimited potential to achieve your goal or to be tested to see if you have the skill to reach someone else’s goal?
I personally think the best games are the ones that give the player lots of control over how they want to reach their goal. This makes the use experience feel genuine and unique. In many JRPG’s the games are fairly linear. Given only one path to follow eventually gets boring. WRPG’s give the player more decisions to make offering more of a challenge. Players that are given better challenges have a better chance of getting into “the flow.”
I think the most important part in any RPG is the amount of decisions that are given to a player. If someone would like to play a role, they should be given a large amount of choices that allow them to make a decision that they want to make. Even though as game designers we have to give the player some limitations, by offering many choices the player assumes they are an unlimited amount of outcomes.
However, the issue with WRPG’s is that they fragment their story and world. This can be seen as both a good and bad thing. Good for players new to the genre or other players that would like to go around and have fun with their unlimited freedom. It is bad because the plot of the game becomes fairly shallow in many games. You rarely play WPRG’s with a very compelling storyline with the freedom of a Bethesda game. I do not think the point of many of these games is to immerse you in their story, but to immerse you in their world.
In the end rather then defining these games as JRPG or WRPG we should define as their own genre like action or FPS. While they both are “role playing” games, they are different sub-genres. We should refer to them as story based RPGs and player based RPGs.
We call Mass Effect an RPG, yet it’s gameplay shows it to be a shooter. Similarly, even though Call of Duty has a levelling system we do not refer to it as a RPG but as an FPS. What does this tell us? In Mass Effect, the player is given more control over the way the story plays out and the levelling system has a lot of depth and choice to it. You can be a soldier specializing in guns or a Vangaurd specialising in biotic abilities. In Call of Duty the only choice the player makes is on their weapon/perk load-out. This proves that while many games may share similar dynamics and mechanics, their end aesthetic is what defines their genre.
Overall while JPRGs and WRPGs are both effective tools are portraying different types of games, I strongly believe that WRPGs are better user experiences. If WRPGs had stories with more depth and cinematic and enjoyable experiences that are fully user determined, they would be perfect RPGs.
Thank you for reading,